Lectionary Year A
April 21, 2002
John 10:1-10

Step IV: Broader Context


(RR)Nestle-Aland lists one New Testament parallels for this pericope. For verse 3, Revelations 3:20 talks about knocking on the door and listening for my voice, open the door and I will come in. This has little relationship to the pericope.

(CA)Most of the New Testament references in the margins of the Nestle/Aland text for today's pericope, John 10: 1-10, are from the book of John itself. These references help to clarify the images of sheep and shepherd in the pericope. Verse 3 says that when the sheep hear Jesus' voice calling them by name, they follow him out of the sheepfold. Responding to Pilate in 18:37 Jesus says he came into the world "to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Verse 16:27 identifies the truth. "[T]he father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God." The flock has listened to Jesus' voice and understands God's love for them. John 5:24 also talks about listening to Jesus. Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life." These verses help the listener to understand the importance of listening to Jesus' voice.
Later in chapter 10 at the festival of the Dedication the Jews ask Jesus to tell them plainly whether he is the Messiah or not. He responds that he has told them and, further, that his works testify on his behalf, but that they do not believe "because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me" (26, 27). In the context of these additional verses, the voice of the shepherd in the pericope takes on deeper significance.

(JC) Sheepfolds: sometimes a square marked off on a hillside by stone walls. here iT seems to be a yard in front of a house surrounded by a stone wall which was probably topped with briars.

Best translation for "robbers" in vs 8 is "bandits." Like a revolutionary guerilla warrior like Barabbas who was involved in insurrection. Some think bandits referred to in vs 8 are messianic revolutionaries so "bandits" is best translation.

Palestinian shepherds frequently had pet names for their sheep indicating a relationship of familiarity.

"ekbalein" in vs 4 a reference to the fact that some sheep had to be driven out of the sheep fold.


[Harper Collins Bible Dictionary. ed. Paul J. Achtemeier. p. 1008-1009; p. 1012-1013]


in the OT:
- first record of domestication: Iraq (9000 B.C.)
- to provide meat supply, wool, fat, milk, hides, horns (containers for oil)
- a sacrificial animal (Gen 22; God provides a ram); the Paschal lamb
- prefers gently rolling grazing grounds; eats plants down to the roots
- they are submissive (Isa 53:7; Jer 11:19)

in the NT:
- used in figurative sense for human beings
- Israel are the lost sheep (Matt 10:6; also cf. Isa 53:6)
- humans are like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36)
- sheep in Jesus' parables (Matt 12:11; 18:12; 25:33)
- the shepherd (Jesus) gives his life for the sheep (Jn 10:7-9: Heb 13:20; also cf. Ezek 37:24)
- humans are like sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6:34)
- Jesus, the sheep/lamb that is led to the slaughter (acts 8:32; also cf. Isa 53:7)
- they trust in the shepherd (Jn 10:3-5)
- they will be separated from the goats ((Matt 25:32-33)


in the OT:
- first shepherd: Abel a "keeper of sheep" (Gen 4:2), whereas Cain is the "tiller of the soil"
- other OT shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David
- they guide and protect the sheep (Jer 43:12) for they become easily lost (Ezek 34:5-6)
- must put up with simple food, harsh weather (Gen 31:40) and primitive lodging (Song of Sol 1:8; Isa 38:12)
- danger from wild animals (1 Sam 17:34-35; Isa 31:4; Amos 3:12; Mic 5:8)
- have to be on guard against thieves (Gen 31:39)
- takes care of sheep's illnesses (Ezek 34:15-16)
- constant search for green pastures (1 Chron 4:39-40)
- finding shelter for the sheep (Num 32:24)
- must count the sheep in the evening (Lev 27:32; Jer 33:13; Ezek 20:37)
- rescue the lost sheep (Ezek 34:11-12)
- close relationship with the sheep/lambs (2 Sam 12; Ps 23:2, 5)
- to lead the sheep to food and water and return them home safely
- give special attention to newborn and sick animals (Isa 40:11; Ezek 34:16)
- used sheep dogs to help move the sheep (Job 30:1)
- also: spiritual overseers (Num 27:16-17; Eccles 12:11)
- shepherding is Yahweh's activity: Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 34
- God's herdsmen (kings and rulers) often fall short of the "shepherd standard" and are condemned for their stupidity and mismanagement
- God promises to raise up new shepherds (Jer 3:15; 23:4)
- God's shepherd was to be from Davidic lineage and would suffer on behalf of the sheep ==> messianic promise (Zech 12:10; 13:7)

in the NT:
- the one knows the sheep by name and who know the shepherd's voice (Jn 10:3-4)
- rescue the lost sheep (Matt 18:11-14)
- finding shelter for the sheep (Lk 2:8)
- they guide and protect the sheep for they become easily lost (Matt 18:12)
- spiritual overseer (Jn 21:15-17)
- Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John), the great shepherd of the sheep (Heb 13:20), the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (1 Pet 2:25), the chief shepherd (1 Pet 5:4)

(CB)In verse 6, John uses paroimi,an , translated in the NRSV as "figure of speech. The Nestle-Aland text shows a parallel text reference to this word at John 16:25 (a summation of Jesus' Parting Discourses), which the NRSV also translates as "figure(s) of speech." Though not listed as a parallel text by Nestle-Aland, the word appears again in John 16: 29. Kittel notes that this word as "proverb" for the New Testament occurs only in 2 Peter 2:22 (K, V, 854 ff). The synoptic gospels favored the word parabolh, translated in the NRSV as "parable." Kittle indicates that "proverbs" in the popular culture were "adopted and combined" by Jesus to articulate the "truth of His message."

For John, the term paroimi,a, according to Kittle, means "hidden, obscure speech 'which stands in need of interpretation.'" This "concealing speech…can only imperfectly indicate supraterrestrial truth in human words."

B.Old Testament and Judaism

(RR)Nestle-Aland list several Old Testament parallels for this pericope. Psalm 95:7 says, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice. This parallels verse 3 that talks about the sheep hearing his voice. It also state "For he is our God and we are his pasture". This is the underlying theme of the pericope although not mentioned specifically in verse 3.
Psalm 80:2 says to stir up your might and come to save us. Verse 4 talks of the shepherd bringing out his own sheep and calls them by name. This is an interesting parallel as it indicates the evangelist is using an Old Testament reference to Salvation in the bringing out the sheep from the pen, and calling them by name.
Psalm118:20 is a parallel for verse nine. The psalm says that this is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. This is a close parallel and ties Salvation and the theology of this N. T. verse to the ancient Old Testament Scripture in the Psalms. It says that those who enter by me (Jesus) (the righteous) will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.
Numbers 27:17 says that who shall go out before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd. This is listed as a parallel for verse nine as well.
Ezekiel 34:11-16 and 23 are beautiful descriptive verses that detail the Old Testament duties and commitment of the shepherd to the flock. The shepherd is God and the sheep are under God's tender care. Verse 23 says that God will place the sheep under the care f one shepherd, God's servant David and he shall feed them and be their shepherd. This parallels verses 10 and 11 of the pericope.

(CA)The Nestle/Aland margins also contain significant references to Old Testament texts. The Psalms listed contain shepherd/pasture themes. Psalm 95:7 reads "For he is our God and we are people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand." Psalm 118 emphasizes the importance of the gate. Verse 19 reads, "Open to me the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it." Verse 20 identifies the gate as the gate of the Lord. One can imagine then Jesus leading the sheep with his voice through the gate (himself) to God. In 10: 9 Jesus says, "I am the gate. Whoever enters (into the sheepfold) by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture." The imagery becomes more complex as we think of Jesus as the gate as well as the shepherd.
The reference to Numbers 27: 17 takes us to another "going out and coming in" when it asks that the Lord go out and lead them in "so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.
An examination of the word "door" or "gate," qu,ra, in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament also helps provide insight into the significance of the gate. The dictionary tells us that the word can mean a house-door or an outer door. It is also used in the New Testament as the gate of the temple. God's opening of the door can signify giving grace. The explication of the use of qu,ra in John 10 reasons, "[T]he idea that Christ is the door for the sheep carries the lesson that Jesus mediates membership of the Messianic community and reception of the promised blessing of salvation…and eternal life" (177-180).
A similar study of the word paroimi,an, which comes from the Greek verb for "I think or ponder," adds insight to the passage. In the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Hauck indicates that the word paroimi,a occurs three times in the gospel of John, once in 10:6 and again in 16: 25 and 29 (856). In John, he adds, the word means "'hidden, obscure speech' that stands in need of interpretation." The obscure speech "can only imperfectly indicate supraterrestrial truth in human words" (Ibid). The hidden meaning in the John 10 pericope is that Jesus is the door (gate) to God. Hauck suggests that the meaning becomes clear later in the gospel when unconcealed revelation, or parousia, replaces obscure speech.

(CB)The Hebrew word lev.m is translated as "proverb." According to Kittle, paroimi,a does not occur in the LXX in the "historical books, the prophets, Ps., Job etc., and only twice in Proverbs and 5 times in Sirach. Like lev.m, paroimi,a can also mean "profound saying." Kittle indicates "where popular proverbs are concealed behind the saying of Proverbs… they are still interwoven into the parallelism." Thus, the aspect of hidden is stressed by John's usage of paroimi,a.

C. Hellenistic World

(RR)Themestios Speeches I 9d-10d (317-388 CE) Flock to Shepherd, Shepherd to Gatekeeper, hireling. The bad shepherd 4Ezra 5:18 Rise therefore and eat some bread so that you may not forsake us like a shepherd who leaves his flock in the power of ravenous wolves. This may be why in the pericope that follows the text, the evangelist says that Jesus is the "Good Shepherd" and the hireling will run away and leave the sheep to the wolves. (M.Eugene Boring, Klaus Berger, Carsten Colpe Hellenistic Commentary to The New Testament Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn. 1995. p.286.)

(CA)Boring's Hellenistic Commentary to the New Testament contains references to literature from Hellenistic world with themes similar to those in John 10: 1-10 discussed above. In his speeches Themestios (317-388 ce) tells of a flock which, alienated from hits shepherd, becomes vulnerable to wolves. The speech continues that someone needs to be placed in charge of a herd of cattle to provide love to "these living creatures." Themestios also writes that sheep will respond with love to the shepherd that loves them (#437). Boring's commentary to the speech notes that since the time of Plato's Republic the connection between shepherd/flock has been "a rich metaphorical source."
Also in the Hellenistic Commentaries, from a writing of the third century - "The Authoritative Teaching," we read of a soul that learned about evil and despised life because life is transitory and painful. Because the soul later learns about her depth, she "runs into her fold, where her shepherd stands at the door" (#438). In the fold the soul receives 10 times the grace and glory in return for all the shame and scorn she experienced in the world. Verse 9 of the pericope reflects a similar theme of safety, this time the safety that comes from being saved by God, when Jesus says, "I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved; and he will go in and out and find pasture."
Using the resources of other scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, uncovering the meanings of key words in the pericope, and reflecting on the use of similar imagery in the writings of the Hellenistic world can all aid the exegete in teasing out the meanings of the John 10: 1-10.

(CB)Kittle indicates that in its construction, paroimi,a indicates an essential aspect of "proverb." Because para, is added to oimh, "way," an amplification or summation implied to what is being conveyed. The essence of "proverb" suggests that the saying is of "popular derivation, ancient and widespread." Further, "it embodies a generally recognized truth, [and] it serves as cogent argument or provides easy popular orientation in dubious cases."

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